It was the last thing I expected to find at the bottom of the hamper.
Now, as a mother of five children, ranging in age from one to 25 years, I'd seen just about everything. My four-year-old's crayons... (which were not a good match for the dryer) My nine-year-old's chapstick... My six-year-old's worms... (at least that taught me not to reach into pockets without looking first) And my oldest and youngest were still in diapers, so we had all sorts of surprises from them. But this... A shiver ran down my spine as I wracked my brain, trying to run back through the last two days to see if there had been any clues that would have warned me.
The only child I could rule out was the baby. He had barely begun to walk, much less tuck a shocker like this in the laundry basket. But which of my kids would I think to pin it on? Or could it be my husband? I shook my head. No, I doubted he knew where the laundry room was, much less the hamper. My oldest was a gentle giant, his brain stuck in perpetual toddlerhood. I supposed it could be his, but how? When? I watched him almost 24/7! My stubborn, iron-willed little man, who was sure he was Spiderman? I might suspect him if this had happened several years from now. Or if the issue at hand was some sort of animal matter. Age was a problem for my little princess, as well. Granted, she was even more stubborn than my son, possibly even more than myself. And I wouldn't doubt that she could do anything she put her mind to. But I couldn't imagine her mind thinking up anything that would create this mess. So that left my sweet t'ween. She wasn't at the ornery teen stage yet, thank goodness. In fact, I relied on her help the most out of the whole crew. But she did have the most time on her hands... Did have the capability to create a mess like this... But she was also bright, and I had a hard time believing that she would leave this where I would come across it.
My husband's call shook me from my reverie. Apperantly he'd been calling for sometime. Long enough he came searching for me. Good - now at least he knew where the laundry room was.
"What the heck is that???" he exclaimed, walking up beside me as I held the basket up.
I just shook my head silently as we stared at the bloody t-shirt at the bottom of the hamper.
I don't know why we stared as long as we did. Perhaps subconsiocusly I hoped that if I stared at it long enough, it might turn into mud, or juice...
"It's probably paint," Ron offered. "Red paint and a little water could look like that. Or ketchup..."
"I think I would have noticed if a whole bottle of ketchup disappeared," I interruputed, "but paint is a possibility."
"I guess the only way to find out it to look at it," replied my helpful husband, making no move for the basket. I sighed, knowing he was right. But part of me didn't want to know what it was. I liked the thought that it was just paint, even if I knew that we had not painted anything recently. Or even owned paint in this color and volume.
I sighed again, louder, irritated that he wasn't getting the hint. Finally, I put the basket down, and reached for the box of gloves I kept above the washer. Never know when you might need them...
The coppery odor hit me as I reached in for the shirt. I had smelled traces of it as I had sorted the laundry, but with all the other nasty smells I had run across, I really hadn't given it much thought. Of course, the plastic bag I had pulled away before discovering this treasure should have been a dead give-away. But I had been too busy dwelling on dinner, and Ron's criticizm that I was "doing too much." Ya think??? Honestly, if he would lift a finger to help out once in a while instead of plopping in front of the tv as soon as he came home from work, I might be able to get a break. But I supposed that was the perks of manhood.
"It's not paint," I announced, as Ron gagged and turned away. I was surprised to find that I, too, had to fight the reflex. I'd smelled much worse things before, but I suppose the knowledge that this coagulation should be flowing throuh someone's veins was enough to turn the strongest stomach. I immediately ran though all the boo-boos I had kissed and band-aided, but I couldn't imagine any that would have produced this. Frankly, an owie that could soak a shirt would have warrented a quick trip to the ER.
"Uh, Addie?" he said as he turned back. It hit me before he said another word This was MY shirt!
Okay, now I was ticked. Blood is NOT an easy stain to deal with. I had just received the blouse a month ago, and new clothes were a rare commodity for me. I'd much rather make sure my kids were in the proper attire. Just like right now, I'd much rather be angry about a shirt that would likely never be worn again, than face the reason it was destroyed in the first place.
Ron scratched his head. "Do you think Anna started, uh..., do you think she, uh, became a woman?"
I glared at him "I think I would know if my own daughter had her period. There are signs, you know, and besides - she's way too young!"
He persisted. "But I was watching this show on the Discovery channel about how girls are starting earlier these days..."
"And they linked that to childhood obesity," I retorted. "Those girls started when they weighed over 100 pounds. Anna's still pushing 60. And she's flat as a pancake!" But even as I argued, I made a mental note to talk to my daughter as soon as possible. This could be a plausible solution.
"So what are you going to do with it?" Ron asked. You. Not we. You. I clenched my teeth. But the fact was, I had no clue what to do with it. Initial instinct was to soak it in bleach... Or Oxyclean... Or Trizyme... Anything that could clean up this mess was fair game. But if - and that was a big IF - if something had happened, as a bloody shirt in the bottom of a laundry hamper was bound to implicate, we could be in trouble for destroying evidence. But how could I even think that my family would be caught up in something that would require evidence??? And how stupid would I feel if I did call the police and it turned out to be something innocent? No, it might be best to just leave it for now. Talk to the kids, see if we could get to the bottom of it all.
"You got space in the basement for a hamper?"
While Ron went down to assess the basement, I debated how I should approach the kids. I figured that waking them from a deep sleep to ask if they had used my shirt was not likely to get the best results. Still, for my own peace of mind, I knew I would have to do that with Anna. If it was true that she was maturing, and bleeding that heavily, we needed to get her checked out. A giggle from the living room detoured my path. Might as well talk to my eldest while he was still up.
I breathed a prayer of thanks as I walked into the room and saw that a commercial was on. Hard as it was to communicate with Joey, his utter focus on his show made it impossible.
“Hey, Buddy,” I said, reaching for the remote. “I need to talk to you for a minute. I’m going to turn off the TV while the commercial’s on, okay?”
“Ah,” he groaned, “jus’ do it!” He turned his head away, punishing me for having the audacity to interrupt.
“Joey, did you put your clothes away today?” I decided to start simple. Questioning him was like deciphering a polygraph – had to throw in a few control questions.
“YES!” He forgot about his irritation, and looked at me proudly, waiting for my praise.
“Thanks, Bud. I sure appreciate your help. Did you put your dirty clothes in the hamper?”
“Okay, did you put anyone else’s clothes in the hamper for them?”
“Who’s clothes did you put in there?” I bit my lip.
“Uh, baf’room!” He replied, flinging his arm in the general direction. I cringed at how close it came to upsetting the water bottle on the stand beside him.
“Were the clothes in the bathroom very dirty?” I asked, not quite sure how to ask the question that was burning a hole through my brain.
“Yes,” he sighed, “Tha’s jus’gross.”
I couldn’t wait any longer. “Was there a bloody shirt in there?”
“Yes.” But no, that was too easy… I should have phrased it differently.
“Did you put your hat in the hamper, too?” Figured it wouldn’t hurt to have one more control question.
“Yes.” There had been no headwear in the basket.
“Okay, Joey.” Poor kid was just telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. I would have to figure out a different tact. Perhaps after his show… “Thanks again for your help.” I turned the TV back on, and headed toward Anna’s room down the hall.
Maybe I was putting off the inevitable, but I wound up stopping in the boys’ room first. I stood by little Toby’s crib and watched him sleep for a moment. Drool ran down his cheek to a growing puddle on his pillow. I crossed the room to check on Ryan. He, too, slept in a growing puddle. The acrid aroma emanating from this puddle informed me that we would be doing laundry yet again the next day. The doctor had informed us that our six-year-old’s bed wetting was perfectly normal, and attributed it to a tiny, immature bladder. What I couldn’t reconcile was the fact that this tiny bladder could overflow every type of pull-up we tried. I adjusted his blanket away from the wet spot and moved on to the girls' room.
I couldn’t help stopping at the first bed to drop a kiss on a flushed cheek. Lily’s halo of golden curls caught the light that snuck through the door. Hard to imagine this little angel was the same child who screamed for twenty minutes about going to bed, just a few hours before. I’d had to hold her down as she kicked and fought to break free. Ironically, when I stood to leave, she’d screamed even louder for me to stay. Yes, when attitude was passed out, this child had been given a double dose. One of her rampages likely could have drawn the amount of blood I’d found. Who knows, maybe she’d clocked Anna or Ryan and caused a nosebleed, and then they’d used my shirt to clean it up. Reality stepped in as soon as the thought crossed my mind. No, the kids were quick to tell me every minor infraction that had been done by their siblings. I definitely would have been called to mediate if this was the scenario.
I quit stalling, and walked over to my eldest daughter’s bed. I knew, sitting down on the edge of it, that something was not quite right. The broken springs didn’t cause her form to shift in my direction like they usually did. I reached out and touched the lump in the bed, then pulled back the blanket with a gasp of frustration. Visions of her innocence flew from my mind. Anna was gone.